British mining firm Global Coal Management (GCM) Resources, formerly known as Asia Energy, is trying to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for having final words about Phulbari coal project.
According to a statement obtained by bdnews24.com, it says it met top government officials in the last nine months to get the project approved.
The information was disclosed by GCM Resources Chairman Gerard Holden on Thursday as he addressed its Annual General Meeting in London amid protests by expatriate Bangladeshis and environmentalists for its plan for open pit coal mining at Phulbari.
Activists of the UK chapter of the National Committee on Protection of Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Port, along with some other organisations, demonstrated in front of the GCM Resources mining firm, the umbrella organisation of Asia Energy, in London.
“As detailed in the Company’s 2012 Annual Report, we have been pursuing approval of the Phulbari Coal Project by engaging directly with the Government of Bangladesh…” Holden began delivering his speech at the Institute of Directors.
“Over the last nine months we have met with all the appropriate Government officials and potential coal customers in Bangladesh and are currently seeking an audience with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in her capacity as Minister for Power, Energy and Natural Resources.”
According to the Chairman’s speech, the company has nearly completed surveying the project area with assistance from the local administration and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The announcement is likely to stir protesters who recently brought life in the project area to a halt by enforcing a daylong shutdown protesting a home ministry decision to assist the company conduct the survey.
The project has been stalled since 2006 due to fierce opposition from the people who stand to lose their homes, their land and their livelihoods. In August that year, three people were killed and many more injured when law-enforcers opened fire on protesters against the mine. Prominent investors, including Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Asian Development Bank eventually withdrew their financial support for the project.
But this year, GCM has renewed its efforts to get the go-ahead to mine in Phulbari. Last month, the government told the local authorities to cooperate with the company’s exploration work in the area, and slapped a ban on gatherings of more than five people.
In response, local people called a two-day strike, and have promised further protests unless GCM and open-pit coal mining are both banned from the country by the end of December.
Following pressure from Bangladeshi campaigners and the World Development Movement, the British government publicly distanced itself from the Phulbari coal project in 2008. But emails obtained by the London Mining Network through Freedom of Information requests reveal more recent attempts by the government to avoid disclosing the nature of its relationship with GCM.
Information requested by the group was refused on the basis that it would ‘prejudice the UK government’s international relations with the Bangladesh government’.
But London-based the Daily Mail disclosed emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the company also requested help to push the project forward from UK Trade & Investment.
But, according to the paper, UKTI has refused to say what role it played in promoting the Phulbari open-pit coal mine, for fear of upsetting the Bangladeshi government.
British MP John McDonnell, speaking in parliament in November, labelled GCM’s proposed mine as ‘destructive’, ‘outrageous’ and ‘shocking’. He condemned the government’s refusal to provide information on its relationship with GCM, saying: ‘In other words, the government would be ashamed of the support they have given this company if it came to light.’
The Chairman claimed its relations with local community were also improving through ‘focus group discussions’ and ‘agriculture improvement workshops’ with the local community and farmers.
“We are also committed to developing the Project to the highest international and national environmental and social standards. To that end we engaged international consultants Environmental Resource Management to review the Project’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment in light of the new performance standards released by the International Finance Corporation,” said the GCM boss.
He claimed until Thursday he did not have any idea about any complaint filed with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and that he came to know about it from reports in media.
“It is therefore hard to comment on the substance of this allegation.”
The World Development Movement and International Accountability Project Campaigners filed the complaint against GCM Resources ahead of the company’s AGM in London on Thursday.
The complaint claims that the mine planned by the London-based and AIM-listed company would breach OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by violating the human rights of the people who would be forcibly displaced and impoverished by the project.
The Chairman, however, drew a conclusion of ‘incorrect information’ being circulated instead of taking up their offer for what he said ‘a constructive dialogue’.
A UN report, published earlier this year warning that “access to safe drinking water for some 220,000 people is at stake” for the project, was also referred in the complaint.
According to a claim of the company, which keeps repeating that it is committed to develop the project to the highest international standard, as many as 17,000 new jobs will be created by the project that will displace 40,000 people.
The 1,000ft-deep mine, which could stretch across 14,500 acres has been put on hold since 2006 after 3 were killed and several hundreds were injured as police opened fire on people demonstrating against open pit mining in their area.
The Guardian quoted GCM saying the mine was essential for Bangladesh to tackle increasing energy demands as it would provide about 114m tonnes of coal for domestic consumption, and the remaining 458m tonnes would be sold abroad.
The project has the aim to run productions for 36 years extracting 16 million tons of coal, only one fifth of which will be used for domestic purpose and the rest will be slated for export.
The project will also require diverting two river ways to cope with water scarcity likely to be caused by the mining in the area.
According to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, GCM bosses approached Britain’s Department of Trade and Industry to soothe relations between the company and the Bangladeshi government.
A similar revelation made by a US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks in 2010, the American government also lobbied for getting the coal mine project approved in Dinajpur.
The cable noted: “Asia Energy, the company behind the Phulbari project, has sixty percent US investment. Asia Energy officials told the ambassador they were cautiously optimistic that the project would win government approval in the coming months.”
The then US Ambassador in Dhaka James F Moriarty privately pressurised the Bangladeshi government to reinstate coal mining operations, revealed the cable.
Admitting the company’s shareholders frustration over fall in its share prices since last AGM, the Chairman in his speech hoped the Phulbari project will bring their luck back.
“A developed Phulbari Coal Project in a responsible and sustainable way will generate the most benefit for shareholders…”